by Michelle Manafy
There is certainly a sense that “kids today” read less and that they have short attention spans. However, technology has actually triggered an explosion of media usage among young people in the last five years – so much so that young people spend about 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media, according to a study of 8- to 18-year-olds by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And, while Kaiser reports that print is the only category of media consumption to lose ground among young people, within the print category only newspapers and magazines declined. Book reading held steady over the previous five years and even increased by a few minutes a day over the last decade. (Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds).
Yet despite their content consumption, young people today can be baffling when it comes to understanding how to engage them in your content products and services as they are also notoriously brand-fickle and their attention — while not at all limited in its span — is fractured among multiple delivery devices (often at the same time).
In my work on the book Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done (May 2011, CyberageBooks, http://bit.ly/DwDNsite), I came across many valuable resources for ways in which to rethink customer (reader) engagement in light of this generation. One of these is the NAA Foundation (http://www.naafoundation.org), which publishes a great deal of research on the topic of engaging younger readers, replete with examples of engagement strategies being tested by educators and publishers, much of which can be applied outside the newspaper industry.
With regards to the native’s multi-platform tendencies, the NAA suggests that we stop scoffing at multitasking and make it work for us instead. They ask, “Have you ever thought about what kinds of products you might provide that would work well with the other things young people do?” In the information industry, we certainly see an increase of products that integrate information into workflow on a variety of platforms. However when we look to the future, at the digital native, integration will have to go beyond workflow, and integrate the consumer into all aspects of content consumption, distribution, and even creation.
We all see an increase of social sharing mechanisms on consumer and professional information products, and even on public library sites. However, these tactics are only a start. The NAA “Youth Media DNA” report states that, “respondents were more likely to recall reading school newspapers prepared by their peers … rather than newspaper youth content prepared for them.” In fact, UK research firm Capgemini found that for an increasing number of young users, content gets added value from the ability to discuss it collectively (http://bit.ly/e93AJr). These online community dynamics alter traditional patterns of trust: consumers, especially the younger generation, have more confidence in peer-generated or crowdsourced content. So while previous generations might have been loyal to trusted info-brands, younger consumers trust their social lens to focus them on worthwhile information.
When we look forward to creating products and services that will engage our next generation of content consumers, we need to be aware that their different content consumption habits are not a death knell. Rather, if we understand their desire to consume content on their own terms, on a variety of platforms, actively engage with it in a socially mediated way — and even participate in its creation — we can chart a path to engagement that will resonate with this generation of content consumers.
Michelle Manafy is director of content for UK based digital publisher, Free Pint, Limited (www.freepint.com), which provides publications and resources that meet the needs of information professionals. An award-winning writer and editor, Michelle’s focus is on emerging trends in digital content and how they shape successful business practices. She is also the co-editor of and a contributor to the new book Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation that is Transforming the Way Business is Done (http://bit.ly/DwDNsite).